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Absence of Games won’t spoil summer

Ideas of how to replace annual summer festival begin to percolate

For the first time in four years and the second time in their history, the Gorge Games will take a year off this July.

Octagon Marketing’s decision to postpone the festival until 2004 was made final on Feb. 15 when they could not secure a title sponsor for the 2003 Games.

While Octagon insists that the concept of the Games is still very much alive, cancelling an event immediately following its most successful year has the potential of creating indifference among both the competitors and the community that supports them.

But, as grim as the outlook may be for the summer of 2003, Gorge Games part-owner Peggy Lalor has organized a community meeting for Wednesday, March 5, to discuss alternatives for a more

locally driven festival.

Lalor declined to speculate about what ideas may be presented at the meeting, but she did hint that she was hopeful that something could be organized.

“There are so many if’s right now,” she said. “What we’re trying to figure out is, do we really care about this, and does a festival like the Gorge Games matter to the local business bottom line?”

The Hood River Chamber of Commerce maintains that, as much as the Gorge Games helps drive tourist dollars to town during July, the industry wouldn’t likely suffer a catastrophic blow because July and August are already busy times for hotels, restaurants and windsurfing/ kiteboarding businesses.

The chamber’s Public Affairs and Marketing Director Genevieve Scholl said that, while the chamber plans to support and promote events like the Gorge Games, they will not be involved in their organization.

“I see my role as one of marketing support,” Scholl said. “We have lots of tools to help leverage marketing for an event, and there are people out there who have energized me with their ideas.”

Scholl pointed to Lava Gear president Mark Flaming as being one of the most active proponents in keeping the spirit of the Gorge Games alive — even if they are called something else.

“It’s important to maintain the momentum the Gorge has as an outdoor recreation destination,” said Flaming, who moved his outdoor clothing company to Hood River in 2002 so he could align it with the image of the Gorge.

“The Gorge Games happen here every day, and that is something that can be marketed with or without a specific event.”

Flaming said that he sees two options for the town to continue promoting its image. One is to organize a specific event that is driven by local funding instead of large corporate funding.

The other idea is to combine all of the events that take place here over the summer — Hood to Coast, Columbia Gorge Marathon, Windfest, Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, etc. — and market them as a whole.

“It’s important to show people that the town continues even without the Gorge Games,” he said. “The Gorge is much more than one weekly event every summer, and we need to take stock in some of the events that are already going on.”

One event that is already expanding for this summer is the Columbia Gorge Marathon and Half Marathon, scheduled for May 31-June 1.

Lizard Events race director Kevin Foreman has added a half-Ironman triathlon — the “GorgeMan” — and a super sprint race to the calendar, and has named the event “GorgeFest.”

Even more expansion plans are expected for next year, but Foreman doesn’t intend to compete with the Gorge Games.

“Our first priority is to involve the community,” he said. “Not just the businesses. Everybody. We just need to get the word out and get people interested.”

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